Pubdate: Wed, 16 Feb 2005
Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Copyright: 2005 The Sacramento Bee
Note: Note: Does not publish letters from outside its circulation area.
Author: Claire Cooper -- Bee Legal Affairs Writer
Bookmark: (Cannabis - California)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


Plaintiffs Hope To End Marijuana Seizures From Patients.

Medical marijuana patients sued the California Highway Patrol on Tuesday, 
claiming the agency has a policy of seizing pot found during routine 
traffic stops, regardless of whether the stash is legal under state law. As 
the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to declare the victor in the state's long 
tug of war with the federal government over medical marijuana, seven 
patients and a caregiver are asking a state judge to enjoin the CHP from 
confiscating the pot that California permits them to possess and transport.

The suit, backed by Americans for Safe Access, a medical pot organization, 
claims that some state officers have been telling motorists on state 
highways that their agency "does not recognize Proposition 215," 
California's medical pot initiative. Other officers, according to the suit, 
have been saying that the CHP follows the federal government's strict ban 
on pot.

CHP spokesman Kelly Huston declined to comment on the lawsuit, which had 
not been reviewed by the agency. He said the agency's policy on pot is to 
leave the decision whether to seize it to "the officer's discretion, based 
on the circumstances surrounding the case."

Such a policy would be constitutional, said Joseph Elford, the lawyer who 
filed the suit. But he said it's not the policy that's being enforced on 
the highways and not the CHP's "official written policy," which directs 
officers to seize pot and advise the motorist of a right to file a motion 
to get it back.

The legal complaint cites a CHP policy requiring confiscation of all 
marijuana "even if a ... claim is alleged" under Proposition 215.

Plaintiff Mary Jane Winters, 54, a Humboldt County nurse, described the 
circumstances of her case, in which the CHP seized her 2 ounces of pot on 
Thanksgiving morning last year.

Dressed in blue nurse's scrubs, she was delivering flowers to a homeless 
shelter after working a night shift.

She was driving 79 mph in a 55 mph zone when her 1988 Mercedes was stopped 
along a stretch of Highway 101 in Mendocino County that sees a good deal of 
drug trafficking.

She offered to show her physician's recommendation to use pot for the 
chronic pain she has suffered since rupturing three discs. But, she said, 
"the only thing that seemed to interest the officer was searching my bag" - 
a colorfully striped burlap handbag containing her medicine.

The charges against Winters were dismissed when she produced her doctor's 
recommendation in court - two months after what she said was an 
uncomfortable long holiday weekend without her pain medicine.

Charges also were dismissed in the cases of the other plaintiffs, who hail 
from six counties - Humboldt, Alameda, Nevada, Santa Clara, San Francisco 
and Contra Costa.

"It's not just that these patients who are the victims of the CHP seizures 
are losing their medicine, which causes a certain amount of pain and 
suffering, but they're also being made to suffer the humiliation, 
embarrassment and indignity of being treated as criminals by the police 
simply for exercising rights promised to them by the California 
electorate," Elford said.

He said he expects a court hearing in about six weeks.
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